Beach and Sea Safety in Portugal

Information on the beaches of Portugal, including water quality, beach safety, access for people with disabilities and the risks related to swimming...

Supervised beaches in Portugal have a system of coloured flags to let the public know about the swimming conditions. The code is:

Safety in the Water
Green Safe to swim
Yellow Caution
Red Swimming Forbidden
Blue and white chequered flag Beach temporarily without lifeguard
  • For general recommendations on how to make a visit to the beach a good experience: Click here
Beaches in Portugal

Portugal's coast faces the full force of the Atlantic Ocean which causes large waves and has made it a popular location for surfers. Depending on the region, the beaches vary from areas with rocky outcrops to exposed, sandy beaches.

The Algarve region

Algarve represents the most southern region of Portugal and has year round sunshine. The coastline has golden sandy beaches and secluded coves with cliffs. The Atlantic Ocean is fresh and clear. Water sports are very popular. All major beaches have lifeguards during swimming season.

The Lisbon coast

Lisbon has many beaches near the city, with colder water than in the south.

  • For information on local beaches from the Lisbon Guide: Click here

The Silver Coast

Costa de Prata, the Silver Coast, stretches from Lisbon up to Porto. It has long, sandy, windswept beaches and huge waves, and is good for windsurfers.

The Green Coast

Costa Verde, the Green Coast, stretches from Porto to the Spanish border in a long coastal strip. The northern Portugal Coast from Povoa Varzim to Caminha is pretty much one long beach. Beaches near Oporto include:

  • Espinho, 18 Km south of Porto, is a lively beach resort with lots of activities, including surfing the Atlantic waves
  • Vila do Conde, 27 Km from Oporto, is both seaside resort and important shipbuilding town. The white sand beach is three kilometres long
  • Povoa de Vazim, 39 Km from Porto, is a lively resort with eight kilometres of beach, ideal for surfing and water sports

Other resorts on the Green Coast are:

  • Esposende, 20 Km north of Povoa de Varzim, an old fishing village, and a low key resort with a long sandy beach lined by sand dunes. The water is clean and with the Atlantic waves, it is perfect for water sports
  • Viana do Castelo has a long beach, with Blue Flag status, and without development to spoil it
  • The beach of Vila Praia da Ancora is great for surfing
  • Beaches around Caminha are great for surfing and bathing, with the sand dunes of the Parque Natural do Litoral Norte in the area

Madeira and the Azores

Madeira has a few good beaches, such as Calheta’s family beach. The Azores are volcanic islands with few sand beaches, remote surfing spots, with consistent waves, and a mix of groundswells and windswells.

Blue Flag Beaches

The Blue Flag is an eco label award for beaches with good practices in terms of water quality, environmental management, safety & services and environmental education. It was introduced in France in 1985 under the name "Pavillon Bleu" and is now used in 41 countries across the world.

  • To find a Blue Flag Beach in Portugal: Click here

Beaches with disabled access

Portugal has a number of beaches dedicated to people with disabilities and impaired mobility. Facilities and services vary from beach to beach.

  • To find a Blue Flag beach accessible for disabled people: Click here
Safety in the Sun and Sea

Being aware of the dangers related to swimming in the sea can help to avoid accidents. Children must be supervised at all times. Most frequent dangers include:

  • Water current can be really strong. If you get caught by one, go out with it until you can swim side waves or get behind the waves.
  • Wind movements causing big waves. Waves normally move from sea to land during the day and from land to sea during the night
  • Choose to swim where other people are swimming

Hypothermia

In some cases - when the temperature difference between the water and the air is great - jumping quickly into the sea can cause hypothermia. The symptoms include shivering, dizziness and sight problems, a sensation of ringing ears, a sudden sensation of fever, itching, cramp, and head ache.

If this happens, get out of the water quickly, dry off, wrap up in clothes or dry towels and rest in the shade until the symptoms pass.

Sunstroke

Sunstroke can occur if exposed to the sun and the heat for too long. Children are particularly sensitive. Symptoms include headache, dizziness, nausea, stiff neck, fever. In a severe case, vomiting and unconsciousness can occur. Treatment involves rehydration with water and salts, and cooling the body gently. Lie down in a well ventilated place in the shade, ideally covered by a damp sheet, drink water without ice and take an aspirin.

Wearing a hat and drinking water regularly can prevent sunstroke.

Jellyfish

If stung by a jellyfish (Medusa), rinse the sting with sea water, not fresh water. Vinegar, wine, alcohol or human male urine deactivates the nematocysts (stinging units). Tentacles should be removed, preferably lifted off the skin with for example a credit card. If stung in the face, rinse the eyes immediately and contact a doctor.

Sea-urchin

The spines of a sea-urchin (Echinoidea) can puncture the skin and go into the foot. This can cause swelling and infection. The spines break easily and are difficult to remove. To relieve pain, soak in very hot water, then visit a doctor to have the needles removed.

Rays, weaver fish and scorpionfish

Shallow sandy sea beds can hide rays and weaver fish. If distressed, a ray (Raya) can lash out with its sting-laden tail. The strike of a ray on flesh can cause skin irritation or infection.

The weaver fish (Trachinidae)  has poisonous spines on its dorsal fin. It rests buried in the sand, with the dorsal sticking up which, if stepped on, cause intense pain. Soak the foot in hot water.

The scorpionfish (Scorpaenidae) often lies concealed in rocky places. It also has poisonous spines which can give painful stings.

  • For more information from Iberian Nature: Click here
Further Information
  • European Environment Agency on State of Bathing Water: Click here
  • Blue Flag beaches accessible for disabled people: Click here
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